Here comes success! Joseph.
A series of biblical paradigms for rethinking success.
Genesis 39 is a great chapter. It covers the span of several years at a fast pace; it has a hero, a devious villain, and a dramatic twist in the middle – everything you need for a great story. More interestingly, although the word success/succeed occurs fewer than 30 times in the whole Bible, this word appears three times in just this one chapter! If we want to see what the Bible thinks success is, let’s begin here.
This isn’t the chapter when Joseph becomes the prime minister of Egypt; nor the one when he reveals himself to his brothers; nor where he saves a nation from famine; not even the one where he’s reunited with his father… all of these might have been chapters where success could have been written large.
This is the chapter where Joseph finds himself discarded, down and out, rejected, mistreated, and seemingly heading for oblivion. Sold by his brothers as a slave, the chapter starts with him entering the household of Potiphar as a nobody, and it ends with him as a forgotten prisoner in an imperial jail, imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. Let’s look into the story a bit deeper…
Scene 1 (verses 1-5) sees Joseph as a slave, where we read in verse 2 that he “prospered” or “became a successful man”; specifically, we read that the Lord was with him, the Lord blessed him and gave him success in everything he did. Put another way, God gave him the ability to do his work to the highest standard, for which he was rewarded with ever greater responsibility and trust.
Scene 2 (verses 6-20) tells us how Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce Joseph; Joseph resists, saying it would be a betrayal of his master and a sin against God; Potiphar’s wife persists in her attempts to seduce Joseph; and when he refuses her again, she savagely accuses him of attempted rape! Joseph finds himself incarcerated in the royal jail… It’s a blatant miscarriage of justice. Joseph was framed. People who had learned to trust him now turn away from him. God, whose name Joseph honours in the midst of everything, appears to be silent. Joseph’s conviction and character, and more importantly Joseph’s God, do not keep him out of jail.
Scene 3 (verses 21-23) is a repeat of Scene 1 but in prison! Even here the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in all he did, so that once again he was rewarded with growing responsibility and trust.
Some learning points:
- Joseph knows that the Lord blesses his work and enables him to succeed in what he’s asked to do.
- The fact of God’s blessing does not, over the course of this chapter, lead to career success or comfort.
- We should not expect our faithfulness to God to exempt us from harsh treatment by others, and yet faithfulness to God is always the right option, even if it costs us our job.
- God is far more interested in who we are, and who we are becoming, than in our status.
- In every situation, when things go well and when things go badly, the Lord is still with us.
- Even in the darkest places the Lord can give us the satisfaction of being good at the work set before us day by day.
There’s a lot of rubbish in the world around us about success. It is usually related to status, prosperity, fame, and achievement (or even just the appearance of these things). For us as Christians it is enough to think of success in terms of doing our work to the highest level we can, knowing that the Lord can be glorified through our work. With this in mind we can ask the Lord to bless us and to help us succeed with our daily work — whatever that work is — for his glory!
Of course we know Joseph goes on to become the second most important person in the world in his day, but he did not plan and scheme and manage his career. Any career ‘success’ that came his way came from the hand of the same God who helped him to be an outstanding household administrator and prisoner of the year.
Cover photo: Fynn Schmidt on unsplash.com